Sometimes, talking to older people can feel awkward, especially if they are living with dementia. Even if you’re a close relative it can sometimes be hard to know what to say. We ask Merle Weiner, Head of Activities at Green Tree Court, to share her ideas to make conversations easier next time you’re chatting to an elderly relative:
1) Remember that your elderly relative is a person just like you
Always treat them with the respect and dignity you would wish to be shown to you. Many people can feel uncomfortable when visiting an elderly relative. It’s not unusual to dread visits, and therefore make them as short as you can. But try to look beyond how you’re feeling. Loneliness is a real problem for many older people, so consider the time you can spend together as a real boost for their health and wellbeing.
2) Find interesting things to talk about
A good starting point is to talk to your relative about things they’ve done or their hobbies and interests. At Green Tree Court our person-centred approach to care is all about finding out what is interesting to our residents. We look for activities to match these interests, from craft and art to gardening and cooking. We also see that trying new activities can help spark new conversations, and encourage residents to chat about past memories.
3) Using effective communication techniques
Ask open-ended questions to encourage your relative to get into conversation. For example, you could ask them about family members or places they have visited or lived in in the past. For people living with dementia, it’s the newest memories that fade first. Many people with dementia have absolute clarity when talking about their life when they were young. Build on this and encourage them to share stories and memories. If you’re asking them a question give them options, so they can take control of the situation. For example rather than saying: “What shall we do?” you could ask: “Shall we go outside or sit inside?”
4) Make sure there are no distractions
It can be harder to enjoy a proper conversation if you’re in a noisy room. Turn off the TV or radio so you can concentrate on what you’re saying to each other.
5) Speak clearly
You should try to speak as clearly as you can, but don’t shout unless the person you’re speaking to asks you to be louder. If it seems like person you are talking to is not understanding what you say, try slowing it down a bit. Shortening your sentences can also help. You can also use hand gestures to reinforce what you’re saying. And make sure you sit so your face is clearly visible to the other person so they can read your lips if they need to.
6) Use props to help you start a conversation
Bring along items that can help to get a conversation started. For example, you could consider bringing along a family photo album to go through together. Or maybe an old comic book or story book that your relative may remember from when they were a child.
7) Be sensitive to any communication issues your relative may have
It’s well known that people living with dementia often repeat the same story. Try to be patient. There’s no point telling them that they’ve already told you something, as they probably won’t have any recollection of that and it could cause them to feel distressed. In fact in many ways, this can make visits easier. Once you’ve identified a topic that makes them happy, you can talk about the same thing visit after visit.
8) Listening is just as important as talking
Remember that listening is just as important a part of a conversation as talking. Some older people may take longer to think through what they want to say. Try not to rush them or complete their sentences for them. Maintaining eye contact as they talk will show your relative that you’re listening to them and care about what they are saying. And try not to look around the room or at your watch as that may signal to the person you are talking to that you are bored.
To find out more about our personalised approach to care at Green Tree Court, please call us on 01392 240400.